With 10 years of experience in the corporate world, most of them in a high-volatility, high-turnover business – homebuilding – I have personally had the experience of reporting to over 10 different managers. Through these experiences, I witnessed firsthand a multitude of management styles, traits and characteristics. Combined with my own experience managing people and seeing what people do and do not respond to, I have been able to distill what I feel are the most important qualities of an effective manager.
A good manager must have a strong handle on assignments, deadlines, meetings and workloads. Whatever the tools you need to track everything (Outlook, Excel, files, etc.), make sure you do it. A manager cannot be effective if he or she is missing deadlines, cannot find critical information and has no understanding of his or her employees’ workloads. A clean desk, neat files and well-maintained Outlook calendar are all indications of good organization.
2) ACCESSIBILITY AND RESPONSIVENESS
Managers must be accessible and responsive to their employees. An employee will not do their best work for a manager who remains behind locked doors except to give orders. The best managers are the ones that make time for the people who make them look good and, if unavailable, get back to their employees quickly. If you demonstrate that you do not care about your employees’ needs, they will reciprocate.
3) DEPENDABILITY AND FOLLOW-THROUGH
A number of times in my career, I have been made promises by managers (promotions, transfer opportunities, etc.) only to have them not come through for me. These have been some of the most disappointing moments of my career. As a result of these experiences, I have always been careful about what I promise and commit to, and if I do make a commitment, I make sure that I follow-through. In the rare instance that extenuating circumstances cause me to be unable to fulfill my commitment, I make sure that I communicate the reason immediately and do not avoid the situation as difficult as the conversation might be..
I am a believer in keeping it loose with my direct reports within professional bounds. Informality allows for a constant flow of information and ideas in both structured and unstructured settings. In this type of environment, people feel more comfortable expressing their thoughts, and as a manager, it is important to foster an environment of trust where all thoughts and ideas are appreciated regardless of their immediate utility. In this manner, you run little risk that important information and potentially game-changing ideas are left untapped.
5) COMMUNICATION SKILLS
A manager needs to have strong communication skills. Precise communication helps to eliminate mistakes, misunderstandings and unnecessary work. It should be noted that strong communication is not solely verbal in nature. A good written communicator particularly in this day and age, with the ubiquity of e-mail, can be an effective manager.
6) EXPECTATIONS AND ACCOUNTABILITY
An effective manager must properly set expectations (e.g., deadlines and quality of work product) for employees. A manager must also hold their employees accountable by not overlooking missed expectations. As uncomfortable as a conversation might be, the best managers do not avoid these conversations but look to them as opportunities to improve performance.
A manager with a big ego will never have full buy-in from his whole team. Weaker personalities may follow a big ego but individuals who are leaders in their own right generally will not. Big egos tend to steal credit, force their ideas and quell the free flow of information. A humble manager will have an easier time of instilling loyalty and receiving maximum effort by giving credit where credit is due, respecting the people that work for him or her, understanding that most every endeavor is a team effort and knowing when to ask for help. One simple sign of respect that demonstrates humility and goes a long way is to never refer to an employee, especially in external settings, in any way that would indicate that he or she is below you in the hierarchy. Other people can determine that for themselves. Refer to employees as colleagues, partners, associates, etc. Your employees will appreciate your respect for them.
8) CONFIDENCE AND DOMAIN KNOWLEDGE
Be confident in your actions and words. As a manager, you are a leader, and employees will react better to a manager who knows what he or she is doing. Confidence comes from competence and expertise. If you somehow came into your position before you were ready, work like hell to get up to speed! If you are not confident and do not have adequate knowledge for the job, you can be sure that there is somebody behind you gunning to take your spot. And false confidence (i.e., arrogance) will make the problem worse. This is no way to run a department or company for maximum results.
Becoming an effective manager is a never-ending process. You can always get better. However, by observing those around you, learning from your own experiences and seeking out training opportunities, it is possible for nearly anybody to become an adequate manager and for many to become exceptional managers. By adopting even a few of the qualities listed above, you will be well on your way to becoming the best manager you can be!